My husband and I have both lived internationally for years. I spent most of my time in Europe and New Zealand with many trips to South and Central America. My husband, however, has lived on almost every continent and traveled to at least 75 countries that we can count.
If you’ve already traveled internationally you will find that it is basically the same thing as traveling domestically. The main difference is getting to and from your destination, a topic that in and of itself that we’ll cover later. Regardless of the adventure you choose—family, camping, solo, adventure, etc.—you have to be aware and get organized.
How to Prepare To Travel Internationally With A Baby
Here are a few of many important things you must do to travel internationally:
You’ll need a passport if you don’t have one. So will your baby! The sooner you get it the less your fees will be. Don’t hope you won’t need it, either, as rules and guidelines are constantly changing. It is always a great idea to have a passport. Go to passport.gov and make sure you begin the process 6 months in advance to avoid those hefty rush fees!
Make sure your son or daughter is properly vaccinated for countries in which there may be danger of disease. I hate a lot of the crud that’s stuffed into vaccines as much as any crunchy mama, but I’d rather risk a developmental delay than death for my little one. If there’s something like the Zika or West Nile Virus in the country to which you want to travel, especially if you’re pregnant, just don’t risk it!
- Travel Advisories
U.S. citizens can find travel advisories by browsing https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en.html. You’ll want to make sure that there are no conflicts in the area, a transportation strike, or disease outbreak that would make your trip too risky or too complicated.
- Age Considerations
Travel young. The younger your little one, the better they sleep. I loved traveling with my son while he walked (it’s not as hard as the naysayers claim it is! I was happy he wasn’t crawling on filthy floors anymore, to be frank. But plane travel gets a bit harder when they’re more wiggly (and sleeping less).
Plan early. Get the seats you want on a plane and make sure you can source your preferred formula, diaper essentials, and such. If your child is gluten-free, you may have a hard time finding GF foods in your country of choice. Be sure to look at my Baby Equipment Rentals before you arrive! (And be sure to call and reserve your baby gear well ahead of time – many things are on high demand and may run out quickly!) This can make or break your trip!
Make sure your stroller and carrier solutions are lightweight, as many places internationally don’t have escalators and elevators everywhere you go. Don’t assume that first-world countries have these amenities (think Italy).When traveling internationally you do not want to stick out like an awkward sore thumb. What’s more, the smaller your footprint; the less likely you are to get targeted by pick-pockets and/or people trying to just plain take advantage of a tourists’ naiveté.
You’ll definitely speak to your family doctor before traveling internationally, even if it’s close to home such as Puerto Rico or the Bahamas. One good idea is to take probiotics before and during your trip abroad. You can find them online, in your local Whole Foods, and you can even find powdered probiotics for babies. You’ll find tons of other baby health advice in Chapter 6.
At the end of the day, there are few things I love more than international travel, although some places are significantly better than others for babies. Obviously, large cities have more things that cater to your little one. But international travel is almost identical to being at home: your child will eat, sleep, poop, and want to soak up as much of your attention as possible.
They’ll still need protection from sun, cold, and rain. They’ll still need to have their bedtime routines and they certainly won’t stop napping! You’ll need to find a laundry solution (I prefer traveling with quick dry clothes as opposed to finding Laundromats so that I can wash my clothes and hang them to dry overnight) and you should know that clothes dryers are largely a foreign luxury to the rest of the world. My favorite way to pack clothes is to choose a color scheme. For instance, I usually pick a scheme of black. My shoes, belt, and pants are black. Now everything else I pack will pair well with that color scheme. That helps in avoiding over-packing or feeling like you have “nothing to wear” because everything you’ve packed goes well together.
Before You Go
Prepare Everything Ahead
Keep two copies of rental car confirmations, passports, baby rental gear orders, travel insurance documents, train and bus schedules, hotel or hostel reservations, and your critical baby games (and adult games) in tow. If you have an emergency or if your confirmation is “lost” somewhere, you don’t want to worry about finding a computer, wifi, and printer at your location to retrieve these items.
Don’t forget critical items such as contacts or glasses, cameras, electronic conversion cables (they don’t take our US plugs everywhere overseas! And they’ll charge you an arm and a leg to buy converters if you don’t plan ahead), and other items found in this post here.
Bounding Through Language Barriers
Before traveling to Europe, my son and I began reading in French and Spanish together, particularly focusing on all the words that we knew we’d be using from those languages.
We found that with just three languages shoddily spoken under my belt I could find people to speak Spanish with in Italy and French with in Germany, when English wasn’t available. (Which is almost never). It’s VERY nice to have a second language to offer when traveling in Europe. You’ll find that even in many parts of Asia where English isn’t common, many people in Japan, let’s say, speak French! Brush up your language skills, it’ll make life SO Much Easier!!
It’s beneficial to give your child an intercultural experience by teaching him or her a handful of words in a language spoken in the country you dream to visit. My son and I read in Spanish, French, Italian, and even Maori so that he listened to and became familiar with those languages. I often dream of traveling on a train in Switzerland or a vineyard in Tuscany, even when I’m sitting in a teensy hotel in Brooklyn. But when I can’t travel with my son, I can transport myself to these beautiful places by reading their books and telling their stories to my son.
Hotels With A Baby
One word: Concierge.
I’m a huge fan of nice hotels and Bed &Breakfasts with a child. The staff is there to bend over backwards for you and you’ll often find retired couples run B&B’s who love to hold your little one. Need your laundry done? No problem, it’ll be back in the morning, folded and outside your door or in your closet. Craving Pasta Primavera in the middle of the night? They can handle that. Having rental car issues or directionally challenged? Staff at nice hotels bend over backwards to assist you, which is especially critical with language barriers.
The nicer the hotel, the more amenities you’ll find, and the more personnel, the more they will cater to your every whim. Once at the Ritz Carlton in Dallas a staff member sourced enough yoga mats and blankets to construct an entire soft, padded gym in our room. At the Mandarin in Las Vegas I couldn’t sneeze without feeling like somebody was offering me a tissue and bringing me some herbal teas to boot. At the Andaz in Maui we couldn’t step two feet without running into shallow pools that were perfect for my son to play in, despite the luxury hotel not being a “kids” hotel.
The Ritz Carlton in Amelia Island, Florida, has fly-fishing, kayaking, and sailing for adults, but they also coordinate family-centric activities; even photographing you and your family as memento of your trip.
You can also take the price point down a notch (or three) and consider staying at a mid-priced hotel chain that are designed for families with children. Many Hiltons or Marriotts will include family-friendly features and my husband and I have found that whether we’ve traveled on the east or west coast with our son, there is always at least one hotel in the “strip” that boasts it’s family-friendly features.
Unlike your fellow guests at the Mandarin Oriental or the Andaz in Maui, guests at family friendly mid-priced hotels won’t look at your child like they’re diseased. Plus, if you have any type of emergency with your child, the staff will likely be trained to handle it. Make sure you call ahead to see if there is a nursery or even a babysitting service to help you and your spouse get a well-deserved date night.
Most of these family-centric hotels host some form of a water park and many have an outdoor playground on their premises. You’ll have no problem getting a crib or bassinet at most American hotels at any price point, but mid-priced hotels ($150 to $300 per night, let’s say) will often have entire backpacks full of fun toys for your child. If you’re near a beach, find out if the hotel rents beach toys, beach balls, and even pop-up sun tents for your baby. In Denver we were delighted to find our hotel had washing machines next to the gym and pool areas. Score!
Do you want to be in the middle of all the action? Try The James New York where you’ll not only find cribs, but bicycle pulls, jogging strollers, baby bathtubs with adorable Paul Frank pajama sets for after-bath, and even Diaper Genies! Babies are definitely welcomed in the Big Apple!
All-inclusive Resorts For Babies
All-inclusive Resorts and their staff are honed in on babies and families. Staying with my nieces in Disneyworld (under 1 year old) we found that the staff was wildly well-trained in the ways of baby talk, baby emergency, baby food, babysitting, and baby entertainment. In the Dominican Republic, we found that our resort wasn’t just prepared for big-kid activities, but they were excited to find us a sitter so that we could enjoy their swanky restaurants and clubs at night.
While great hotels have good amenities, all-inclusive resorts are out-of-this-world awesome for kids. You can find resorts with babysitting and nanny services, top-notch high chairs, cribs, and exersaucers. Some even have special dining hours that are geared to children where there is baby theatre and even costumed staff to delight and entertain your little one.
Every resort internationally is so enormously different so I’ve compiled a very short list of just a few resorts that have gained notoriety as the best of the best for families worldwide. Staying in Hawaii or the islands? Try to find a luau or fire show. I’ll always remember the dreamy Maori fire dances on Aitutaki in the Cook Islands or the spectacular female hula dancers and drums of Hawaii.
Three of my baby’s favorite resort features are the following:
- Animals! We visited many “ranch” resorts in Texas with llamas, cows, pigs, and lots of goats! His all-time favorite animal from the time he was about 9 months old were elephants and horses—the zoo is magical for babies from a young age on.
- Children love flowers for their smells and colors. Plus I can’t help but to think that because they emit life-giving oxygen my son senses and thrives off of. We have spent hours walking around botanical gardens in big cities, meditation gardens on the Pacific Coast, and any time he sees flowers on the street he begs me to stop so that he can get some “sniffs” and possible pick one to hold for a minute, or thirty!
- My son began doing the “clapping” sign from American Sign Language without any prompting from us at about a year old. At that time he would also love to take my cell phone and bounce furiously to the beats of tunes on Spotify. Live music puts him in a trance, though! You can feel his little heart beating and his legs kicking to the music. Resorts are notorious for having bands and live music playing, often even in the middle of the day!
The Best Family International All-inclusive Resorts
In order to help you get started planning your international all-inclusive resort vacation, I’ve included a very short guide of just a few resorts and countries that have child-friendly resorts and towns whose reputations precede them.
The Franklyn D. Resort and Spa provides a free vacation nanny as a “gift” to you while you’re vacationing. She’ll assist your family from check-in to check-out and keep your kids entertained while you’re golfing or scuba diving for buried treasure. Your suite will stay clean. Your fridge will stay stocked. And I’m told that by the end of your trip you’ll probably want to take your beloved new family member home with you.
Largely exempt from the turmoil dominating new headlines, Mexico has a plethora of some of the world’s best resorts. While I’m not a fan of Cancun in the adult space (too cheesy!), I adore the Yucatan for its Mayan ruins and phenomenal beaches, such as in Tulum, Mexico. Cancun and the Riviera Maya have ample all-inclusive resorts geared toward your family with the option of easy travel up and down the Riviera Maya for day-trips to the ruins or even to check out the hopping little towns of Tulum or Playa del Carmen.
Check out the Azul Beach House with your baby for its kid-friendly pools. For older children they even host the “Nickelodeon Experience”, “Azulitos Playhouse”, and “My Gym” programs with baby amenities.
For a more authentic Mexican experience find the sleepy surf town of Sayulita just forty-five minutes north of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific side of Mexico. It’s my favorite town in Mexico. Don’t speak Spanish? Sayulita is packed with ex-pats and some of the best food I’ve ever tasted. You won’t find tons of resorts here (although Playa Escondida is one of the dreamiest places I’ve ever stayed), but at the beach or the park you are almost certain to run into tons of children, many of whom speak perfect American English!
Turks & Caicos
Beaches hosts one of the world’s Top 25 family resorts, where you’ll find toddler pools and four “villages” on the property that mimic Italy, Key West, French Island, and Caribbean vibes. The resort is peppered with Sesame Street characters and once your baby is old enough, you can enroll them into educational activities with their favorite characters. For example, “From Trash to Treasure with Oscar the Grouch”. Older children can attend a DJ academy or xBox play lounge. Furthermore, all babysitters and nannies at this resort are from US accredited universities so you can feel comfortable about the quality care your precious ones will receive. They’re available from 9 AM to 6 PM so you can scuba dive and have some adult adventures, and there are after-hour arrangements that are available, as well. One of the claims the resort puts on its website is that the number of accredited nannies to babies at it is 3:1. That is pretty amazing! And if your little one is a year or older, there is a fantastic children’s water park and choo-choo train for them to enjoy.